Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What a difference 4 years can make!

        Four years ago yesterday, on Aug. 20, 2009, I had a grueling 6 ½ hour surgery called a Whipple procedure.   I had a tumor in my pancreas, but I’m happy to say that I had the “good kind of pancreatic cancer”.  Mine was neuroendocrine, the same kind that killed Steve Jobs, but it did not get me!  Here is what WebMD has to say about the Whipple procedure: For some pancreatic patients, a complex surgery known as the Whipple procedure may extend life and could be a potential cure. Those who undergo the Whipple procedure have a five-year survival rate of about 20%.  The classic Whipple procedure is named after Allen Whipple, MD, a Columbia University surgeon who was the first American to perform the operation in 1935. Also known as pancreaticoduodenectomy, the Whipple procedure involves removal of the "head" (wide part) of the pancreas next to the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). It also involves removal of the duodenum, a portion of the common bile duct, gallbladder and sometimes part of the stomach. Afterwards, surgeons reconnect the remaining intestine, bile duct, and pancreas.

         The Mayo Clinic website says: The Whipple procedure is a difficult and demanding operation for both the person undergoing surgery and the surgeon.

         If you have read my blog, you know that that was my 3rd bout with cancer.  The first when I was 21, the second at 42 and this one when I was 53.  I’m 57 now, about to turn 58, and next week I’m heading to the East Coast to attend my 40th high school reunion.  Truly, I never thought I would get this far!

         But, back to this anniversary - August 20th, 2009.  I often say that I have the worst memory of anyone I know.  I blame it on all of the anesthesia I’ve had (eight surgeries total).  But there are things I remember rather clearly – like the three times I’ve been diagnosed.  Just the words alone hit you so hard, like being punched in the gut. Just three little words, but they carry so much weight. ‘You. Have. Cancer.’  I’ve heard those words three times in my life, and I pray that I never have to hear them again – to me or to anyone I know or love.

         So, four years ago…I spent 23 days in the hospital at Stanford, or “The Spa” as we called it.  It’s difficult to describe what it is like to spend 23 days in a bed, basically, bound to the wall by a series of IV tubes, spending the better part of most days vomiting.  I had an incisional pain, abdominal pain, pain in my throat and ears from a naso-gastric tube, hip and back pain…you name the pain….I had it. But then again, I was on a morphine drip…and so my pain was muted, and there is so much I don’t remember. I had nothing to eat or drink for 23 days.  I wanted to eat so badly.  I spent many hours of each day watching the Food Network.  The doctors thought that by doing so, it would wake up my digestive system, which was totally and utterly unresponsive to anything.  

         And so, that is the condition I was in 4 years ago.  But now, 48 months later, I am a totally different person.  I swim 7 days a week, dance, do yoga, work with a personal trainer, have a busy Wellness Coaching business, and work for an organization I love called Swim Across America.  I’m alive and so, so grateful for each and every day.  My goal in life is to try hard to enjoy it…and I do!  I’m grateful to my wonderful husband, my two amazing children, my extended family, my network of friends, my meaningful work, and exercise!  What more can I ask for? 
          I’m trying to make a difference through my coaching work and through Swim Across America.  If you feel so inspired by reading this blog, please click on my link and donate.  The money raised goes directly to pediatric cancer treatment and research in the Bay Area.  My goal is to get 36 people on my team (you can join as a swimmer, kayaker or volunteer), and to raise over $36,000.  I’m so glad you are in my life and are taking the time to read my story. Thank you so much.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

36 Years!


         Today is a very special day for me….and on some level a bit weird.  One that I’ve written about before, and even though it comes around each year, I can’t quite believe that what happened to me 36 years ago really happened.  But it did.  Thirty-six years ago today I underwent a 10 ½ hour operation for clear cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina.  It was caused by a drug (DES) that was given to my mom when she was pregnant with me. I was 21 years old and I had cancer.  I had many organs removed.  Now, looking back, it seems surreal, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday.  The diagnosis, the treatment, and the recovery – which was extremely scary and very difficult.  I had to learn how to live with a whole new body and bodily systems that didn’t function as they did before the surgery.   Quite frankly, I never really believed that I would make it to 57!  But I did, and two more cancer diagnoses  (one at age 42 (lung) and one at age 53 (pancreas)), eight surgeries, and at least 20 hospitalizations later, I am grateful and feel extremely lucky to be here.  I am blessed with a wonderful and supportive husband of 27 years, two amazing children who bring me so much pleasure and joy as I watch them become interesting and enthusiastic adults, work that I love and a very loyal network of friends and family.

            How does one celebrate such an auspicious anniversary?  The best way I know how…I’m about to go for a nice long swim and enjoy a simple dinner with my family.  Actually, I try to celebrate my survival daily by living each day with intention, gratitude, exercise and meaningful work.  Right now, I’m in the thick of planning for the 2013 Swim Across America San Francisco Bay Swim.  Swim Across America raises money for cancer treatment and research through swimming events. I am the co-event director in SF, and while this is supposed to be a part-time “job”, it seems to take up most of my time as we get closer to the date which is October 5th.  I am also the captain of Team Susan Survives – and my goal this year is to get 36 people on my team – as swimmers, kayakers or volunteers and hopefully raise over $36,000.   In the past 7 years, since I became involved with this organization, Team Susan has raised over $200,000.  How does one celebrate surviving cancer 36 years since my first cancer (and 15 since my lung and almost 4 since my pancreatic)?  By giving back….and asking everyone I know to help.  No donation is too small.  I thank you in advance for helping me “make waves to fight cancer”.   I also thank you for being in my life and for playing some role, large or small in my survival journey.

To find the Swim Across America page for Team Susan Survives, go to:

And remember: